Every year, the John Marshall students compete in over a dozen interscholastic competitions. With an average of only two to four members for each team, the competition for a spot is intense to say the least. Teams are usually coached by practicing attorneys and/or faculty members with a strong background in the applicable practice area.
On October 21st through 24th Jeannie LaBarbara, Katie Siefert, Corey Tallent and Steve Tschiggfrie will be competing in the National Trial Advocacy Competition (“NTAC”) at the Michigan State University College of Law. This year, the team is being coached by Meredith Shane, Sean O’Brien and Danny Hanichak – three Cook County Assistant State’s Attorneys.
We all wish success and domination to our team this year; in the meantime, I am sure each of us hopes to be in their shoes next fall. To learn a bit more about what being on a competition team is all about, and to gain valuable insight into the mind of one of the team’s very important decision-makers, I asked Meredith Shane a few questions.
A recent JMLS graduate, Ms. Shane is no stranger to interscholastic competitions: she competed in the National Trial Ethics Competition, the Buffalo-Niagara Mock Trial Competition, the American Association of Justice Student Trial Advocacy Competition, and was on the shadow team for the John Marshall Law School/ABA Criminal Justice Competition. This year, Ms. Shane is giving back to the JMLS mock trial community by being a coach. She stated “coaching a trial team is a very rewarding experience. I honestly enjoy working with the students, going through the case with them, and watching their advocacy skills develop. I enjoy the NTAC competition because it is a criminal competition and the fact patterns are always very interesting, thereby allowing some wonderful arguments to be made.”
One of the first things I wanted to know was what Ms. Shane, Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Hanichak were looking for when selecting members for the NTAC team. Ms. Shane says “In order to have a successful team, you must look for people that work extremely hard and also have an ability to think on their feet.” She explains “A lot of work goes into a trial team: daily practices, long weekends, evidence training…if you aren’t willing to work hard, you will not be successful.” The need for hard work is evident from the team’s practice schedule – the coaches and the team members spend three days during the week from about 5pm-8:30pm, and on weekends from about 10am until 4 or 5pm preparing for the competition. As to the second requirement, the coach says “during competitions, things don’t always go as planned and being able to think on your feet is a wonderful asset.”
As for classes that would help place onto a team, and help you succeed as a member of a mock trial team, the Coach replied: “Trial Lawyer is a great class to take. By taking Evidence and Trial Advocacy in tandem, you not only get to learn the rules of evidence in a class room, you also get to see them play out in a courtroom.”
Ms. Shane also provided some insight into decision-making as to each member’s role on the NTAC team after it was already composed: “In the beginning of the semester, when we first get the problem, we have the students just get on their feet and do an opening or a closing. The students let the coaches know what role they would most like to have, but ultimately, the coaches make the final decision.” Ms. Shane wants the students on the NTAC team to have “an enjoyable…as well as a learning experience.” Each decision that the coaches make tie in with their ultimate goals, which are: “The first goal is that overall, the team learns a lot and gains experience from the competition. If a student wishes to be a trial lawyer, mock trial is one of the best ways to get your feet wet. The second goal is definitely to win.”
Being on a competition team is an invaluable experience with short, as well as long-term positive consequences. As Ms. Shane warmly recalls “when I was in law school, I had so much fun and learned so much doing trial competitions. Being able to advocate well and knowing how to apply the rules of evidence are wonderful assets to have and will serve the students well in their future legal careers.”